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Push the Envelope

Curtainwall manufacturer/contractor has a vision to build better

Aws Jun18 2

Des Moines, Iowa-based Architectural Wall Systems (AWS) used all its accumulated expertise, experience and energy on the exterior envelope of the new Visual Arts Building on the University of Iowa (U of I) campus in Iowa City, Iowa. The result was a multi award-winning building. Using its 25 years of being a specialist providing custom curtainwall and building envelope systems both in the Midwest and nationally, AWS’ technical acumen produced a beautiful addition to the campus with a visually dramatic appearance. This project (and many of AWS others) is proof of the company’s success from design concept to completion.

In 1991, Mike Cunningham founded AWS with the desire to assist the design community in detailing and constructing higher quality building envelopes. He became a student of cutting-edge building technologies and began to carve out a niche. Applying European and Canadian rainscreen technology, AWS quickly filled the need for high-performing building envelopes and began to transform the Des Moines skyline with the construction of the EMC Insurance Co. headquarters. Today, using a network of design professionals, engineers and an international supply chain to meet budget and schedule constraints, AWS’s portfolio includes Apple, Wellmark, Sprint and TD Ameritrade, among others.

Building Better

President Adam Boeckmann says it’s AWS’ breadth and depth of experience that allows his team to build better. He cites in-house design capability, a culture of innovation and collaboration, a projectcentric approach, and a global perspective as the keys to the company’s success.
The formula for success starts during preplanning. “AWS’ hallmark is getting involved early in projects and helping the architect with a designassist process,” Boeckmann says. “We have in-house architects, which not only helps our design process internally, it sets us apart when it comes to integrated project delivery with the design team and owner early on. We can apply our expertise in the design phase in a transparent exchange of information relative to expectations, quality, cost and schedule. A collaborative approach really creates quality, economy and value of design.”

AWS takes full advantage of integrated project delivery; Boeckmann contends this approach is how his company has always operated. “Trade partners [owners, architects, general contractors] assist in the design, help manage the budget and help establish the schedule,” he says. “Having [their] involvement upfront means a far more efficient team system throughout the project life cycle. The owner gets exactly what they want.”
Once a mutually agreed upon project design is made, an independent testing laboratory ensures all pertinent code requirements and tests are met. Then, quality assurance standards can be defined and shaped for the project-specific quality assurance program. AWS creates an individualized quality assurance plan for each project it completes.

Adam Boeckmann, AWS president

Putting it Together

AWS began manufacturing its own systems over 20 years ago. By manufacturing what they install, AWS can perform constructability reviews during the design phase. “We are able to see the parts and pieces coming together in the shop, and that knowledge typically translates to better field installation,” Boeckmann says. “It’s been amazing to see how prefabrication has influenced the building envelope and curtainwalls. The shop-fabrication process reduces field installation time and focuses on quality in a controlled environment.”

Unitized building skin systems constructed in a controlled environment allow seals and tooling to be monitored and checked with quality control programs. Automated processes produce a consistent product application in a timelier manner.

Two AWS manufacturing facilities can flexibly allocate resources. Materials are delivered to job sites as needed so that field installation sequencing is uninterrupted. Completed, unitized systems enclose the building more quickly allowing interior trades to progress sooner. “It’s preferable over a stick-built system where every part and piece is installed separately in the field versus installing modules or unitizing,” Boeckmann says. Increased safety in the field is another unitization advantage.

Innovative and Collaborative

Boeckmann says innovative solutions are an AWS hallmark founding philosophy. “The project details determine the task at hand,” he says. “Customized details, innovative solutions and buildable construction methods are tailored to the specific project requirements.” Three AWS architects do all BIM in house. “We’ll use it for a wide range of things from clash detection to layout,” Boeckmann adds. “The amount of Revit and BIM we use is incredible.” AWS field superintendents, project managers and engineers have access to real-time project information to eliminate error and confusion. Technologies, such as Manchester, N.H.-based Newforma Project Center Software, streamline project communication and provide a centralbased program.

AWS’ innovative and collaborative mindset has helped it expand its envelope scope. In 2015, it formalized a partnership with Strawberry Point, Iowa-based Seedorff Masonry Inc. that created a single-source solution for the design and construction of the building envelope. It was close collaboration and innovation that not only led to the new Visual Arts Building’s success, but also a project on the U of I’s campus that it was simultaneously working on less than one mile away from it called the Hatcher Auditorium. “AWS was responsible for the exterior envelope including metal framing and sheathing, air barrier, insulation and custom 2-mm-thick stainless steel panels,” Boeckmann says. “By including the entire exterior wall assembly in our package, we were able to coordinate amongst ourselves and have better control of the sequencing and construction tolerances. [It was] a replacement of the existing auditorium with a very impressive building from a visual standpoint. The metal panels on it are just phenomenal. We’re happy to have that job on our resume.”